UNESCO Director-General pays homage to Pope John Paul II as a champion of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogueUNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura today expressed his profound sadness over the death of Pope John Paul II, whom he described as a “spiritual guide (who) placed his extraordinary energy, charisma and eloquence at the service of peace and inter-religious dialogue.”
“John Paul II was firm in his convictions and expressed his profound faith while all the while encouraging dialogue. From the ecumenical encounters in Assisi to his day of fasting coinciding in 2001 with the end of Ramadan, and his visit in 1986 to a synagogue in Rome, the Pontiff worked unceasingly to promote dialogue between different religions. The first Polish Pope in history was also, in 2001, the first Pope to visit Greece since the schism in 1054 between the Churches of the East and West and, in Syria, the first Pope to enter a Mosque. John Paul II was an unwavering champion of inter-religious dialogue,” Mr Matsuura declared.
The Director-General continued: “Dialogue between civilizations was also an idea that he held dearly. In 2001, the United Nations Year for Dialogue between Civilizations, he devoted his New Year message to inter-cultural dialogue, which he described as ‘an intrinsic requirement of the nature of both man and culture’. During a private audience with the Pontiff in March of the same year, I witnessed at first-hand the extent to which this issue was at the heart of his concerns.”
Mr Matsuura recalled that: “In June 1980, Pope John Paul visited UNESCO where he made an historic speech, in which he said: ‘use every means at your disposal to watch over the fundamental sovereignty possessed by every nation by virtue of its own culture. Protect it and cherish it for the sake of the future of the great human family.’
“Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II was also a messenger of peace: receiving Yasser Arafat in 1982 and establishing official relations between Israel and the Vatican, he tried wherever and whenever possible to prevent conflict. His quest for peace led him to express himself several times at the United Nations.
“For decades, this spiritual guide placed his extraordinary energy, charisma and eloquence at the service of peace and inter-religious dialogue. The immense crowds that followed his numerous travels clearly illustrated his vision of universal brotherhood.”
Thumbnail and inside photo © UNESCO/Felici: Pope Jean-Paul II and Director general of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura at the Vatican, 15th March 2001.